Surfing: more important than you think!

And therefore we should ice a few man-eaters. Here’s why…

On Saturday, broadsheet newspaper The Australian, published an anti-shark piece, one in a series by Fred Pawle.

The story is called Surfing, the pursuit that opened war-torn eyes to natural pleasure and it is tumescent with surfing’s rich history. It’s this history, writes Pawle, that puts the surfer above the man-eating shark in importance, at least when it comes to near coastal waters.

Considering the story is locked behind a (not altogether unreasonable) pay-wall, let’s examine as much as is legal to print online:

“When people say ‘stay out of the water’, they are almost always referring to surfers. That’s not only because surfers are the most prominent victims and critics of sharks but are in the ocean for purely hedonistic, and therefore insignificant, reasons.

You want to manage shark numbers so you can go … surfing? Gaia’s worshippers are infuriated by any form of deliberate ‘human intervention’ on the environment, but they are especially scornful of anyone whose objectives are merely recreational.

“What these landlubbing preachers fail to realise is that surfing helped shape the happy, optimistic, prosperous world in which they live. Surfing was, according to some historians, the discovery that helped awaken European civilisation from its puritanical, introspective, morbid dreariness and gave it a new reason to love life.

“When French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville sailed into Tahiti in 1768, he discovered what he thought was the Garden of Eden, where food was plentiful and life was leisurely; the moderate climate made clothing barely necessary; the people were athletic, healthy and beautiful; and polygamous sex was a recreational activity. “The very air which the people breathe; their songs, their dances, almost constantly attended with indecent postures, all conspire to call to mind the sweets of love,” he wrote in his memoir. ­“Accustomed to live continually immersed in pleasure, the people of Tahiti have acquired a witty and humorous temper, which is the offspring of ease and of joy.”

“Surfing was an integral part of this strange new culture. William Anderson, a surgeon on Captain James Cook’s journey to Tahiti, described in 1777 a man riding waves in a canoe. It is thought to be the first written account of surfing, and ends thus: “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea.”

If Fred Pawle’s name rings familiar, it’s because he has a gilded career as a writer. In 2008, he was nominated for a Walkey Award, Australia’s highest journalistic honour, for a story I commissioned about surfing’s first openly gay pro surfer, Matt Branson.

(Read here) 

Pawle also broke the story of surf photographer Paul Sargeant’s, how do you want to phrase this…his fall from grace?

(Read here) 

Lately, he’s been painting an apocalyptic picture of the Byron Bay area as besieged by great white sharks. He ain’t wrong, at least according to my sources.

“But, sadly,” he writes, “the ‘stay out of the water’  crowd is winning. Many surfers in northern NSW are adhering to the advice and leaving their boards at home. If they are surfing, they are seeking the most crowded breaks, which is not what surfing is about. The effects on coastal communities, especially those relying on surf tourism, has been significant and unnecessary. If anything, it is the environmentalists who are being the most self-indulgent here. And they are forcing ocean-lovers to pay the price.”

Is Fred Pawle an audacious visionary or is he a  puss-puss who shouldn’t watch so many shows on Shark Week?

(Read here, if y’subscribe)


Ritual: Being chaired up the beach

"It is a great evil and it should be stopped."

There are few guarantees in life, fewer in surfing, but you can rest assured that if a man or woman wins a surf contest, two friends, acquaintances, countrymen or sponsors will be there to chair him or her up the beach.

In theory it is wonderful. There she are, held above the adoring masses who cheer her accomplishment. She floats through them, like royalty, carried by overwhelming support until finally reaching the stage. A frenzy of applause as she takes her trophy and blows kisses. She is queen of the world!

In practice it is awkward. Maybe once a year, maybe once every other, at one professional surfing contest is the crowd actually thick enough to extend from beach to stage, you see. Thus when his two friends, acquaintances, countrymen, sponsors arrive at water’s edge they are alone with maybe a cameraman standing nearby. They lift him up, not gracefully, placing one buttock on each of their shoulders. Often the hoisters are not the same height leading to severe bending of the spine. Onlookers, standing many yards away, wonder, “Does he have scoliosis?” No he does not. He is merely getting chaired up the beach.

The walk through empty patches of sand is arduous. It is difficult to walk gracefully though sand under any circumstance, but having one buttock on a shoulder makes it completely impossible. And so the trio stumbles, victor shouting loudly because he must because the onlookers are standing many yards away wondering, “Does he have Tourretes?” No he does not. He is merely getting chaired up the beach.

The trip takes far too long, bumbling along, onlookers giving even more room then usual because the scene has a messy quality. And when the victor takes the stage his legs are often asleep leading to more bumbling. Onlookers, fleeing, wonder, “What evil has descended to the beach this day?”

Yes, chairing a man or woman up the beach is evil and it should be stopped.

Kolohe Andino
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour," says Kolohe Andino, the world #1 (but qualifying series not CT). | Photo: WSL

Kolohe Andino Just Won a Surfing Contest!

And you thought he was washed away by the Brazilian tide?

Earlier today, the Californian surfer Kolohe Andino, who is 21, won the Allianz Billabong Pro Cascais over Caio Ibelli (BRA), 21, in “four-to-five foot surf at the backup venue of Praia do Guincho.”

I normally don’t like to quote press releases so early in a story, but this piece builds a mood so well, underpinning Kolohe’s existential desperation.

The back story is this:

Kolohe Andino, rated #29, or close to last on the CT, is a goner, a has-been, washed away by the Brazilian tide. As relevant as beards or cold-drip coffee in 2015.

But suddenly, here he is, sending shivers down our spine.

Kolohe Andino, rated #29, or close to last on the CT, is a goner, a has-been, washed away by the Brazilian tide. As relevant as beards or cold-drip coffee in 2015.

Let’s read.

“Andino came firing right out of the gates in the final with a solid display of power surfing on his backhand for a 7.67 and the heat lead in the first instants of the 35-minute bout. A quick exchange on successive righthanders gave both surfers limited opportunities, but Andino with an average score increased his lead over the Brazilian.

Ibelli launched his campaign 15 minutes in, with a similar lefthander to Andino’s opening ride to collect a 7.10 and get right back in the mix for first place. Both surfers continued to surf the clean lefthanders back-to-back, without changing the situation as they were only able to post medium scores.

On the five-minute mark, Andino found a bigger, cleaner set wave and performed two beautiful turns including a huge vertical blast against the closing section for an impressive 8.90 and eventually the win.”


“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour,” Kolohe told BeachGrit after.

Watch his elaborate rotation in the semi final. It’s operatic!

And the final! Finger biter!

Perpetual Youth

Advice: Never Let Go Of Your Inner Child!

You can be Peter Pan forever… 

The problem with having a childlike sense of wonder is that children often make bad decisions. It’s why they don’t get to call the shots, poor grasp of consequences.

Who doesn’t remember being asked by an adult, “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I dunno.”

For some of us those moments stretch well into adulthood.

Abomination: SurfTech surfboards!

The worst ever invention?

I am still in Cabo and every day is like paradise. Margaritas chased by 86 degree nugget waves chased by more margaritas. My hair is so blonde and my skin is so brown and my smile is so wide. But there is one problem. I have a surfboard here, a gorgeous little Mayhem number dropped off a few years ago, but I can’t currently get it (complicated) and, thus, am forced to ride a rented SurfTech.

When was the last time you paddled one of those out? Mine is a 6’3 Merrick Biscut and it is absolutely hideous. The other day I rode a twinnie something rather else and today I also rode a 5’10 Robert August thing and they were absolutely hideous too. Because they were all SurfTech.

And riding SurfTech is not actual surfing I have come to realize. The boards, so plastic-y stiff, don’t respond at all. The best one can hope for is a general slide down the line. Putting it on a rail? Milking a section? Finding the sweet spot? Forget it all! SurfTechs are “like having sex with your pants on” a wonderful friend told me and is he ever right.

I remember the controversy, back in the day, about boards being rolled off assembly lines in Thailand, or wherever, and the shapers getting angry because no soul maybe or something and I remember being not interested. I didn’t have one and wasn’t going to get one.

Now I am interested. Because they are absolutely hideous! When water slaps their bottoms they make some weirdly annoying pinny sound and when you paddle for a wave they hold in the lip and when you finally build speed in an open section there is no slowing them down to keep pace with the wave.

Riding SurfTech is not actually surfing. It should be called water tabling. And water tabling on a SurfTech is sort of fun. It involves running over dry reef, people and other SurfTechs. It involves letting children throw rocks at them and smiling wide.